Anglicans divided over new bishops' group on homosexuality

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby: 'Pray for me.'Reuters

Conservative and liberal Christians have criticised a new bishops' group set up to discuss the issue of homosexuality.

Some conservatives are upset that such a group has been set up at all.

Liberal Anglicans are equally angry, complaining that the new Bishops' Reflection Group contains no members who have advocated a change in the Church's traditional teaching on marriage.

Others however have welcomed its membership as faithfully representing Biblical teaching on gay sex.

The group includes at least two prominent evangelicals, the Bishop of Blackburn Julian Henderson and the Bishop of Maidstone Rod Thomas, former chair of the conservative Reform group. It also incudes three women bishops, Bishop of Stockport Libby Lane, Bishop of Crediton Dame Sarah Mullaly and Bishop of Dorking Jo Wells.

It has been set up following two years of private "shared conversations" about sexuality in the Church of England, which has consistently opposed gay marriage and is legally exempt from ever having to perform a same-sex wedding ceremony. The group will make its first report to General Synod in February. 

Rt Rev Graham James, the Bishop of Norwich, will chair the new body on sexuality.Reuters

Ian Paul, a member of the Archbishops' Council, told Christian Today: "This issue is about our doctrine of sex and marriage, and a whole host of other things along with it. To imagine this just affects one group in the church is blinkered. Secondly, yet again we have the mantra that the 'traditional' understanding of marriage is 'homophobic'. If we cannot move beyond these emotive stereotypes then there is little room for respectful debate."

Chris Sugden 

Canon Chris Sugden, of the conservative group Anglican Mainstream, told Christian Today: "The calling of bishops is to ensure that in sharing the love of God in Jesus, Christian churches are led by ministers faithful to biblical teaching.

"The question facing the Church of England is not whether to amend the biblical teaching on marriage but how sensitively to pastor those in the church who find the calling to follow that teaching a particularly difficult challenge.

"It is therefore proper for those who affirm the biblical teaching as bishops to be members of the new panel. It is likely that they will take evidence from many points of view in the church. We especially encourage them to take an evidenced based approach on how biblically orthodox Anglican churches in the evangelical, charismatic and catholic traditions exercise such sensitive pastoral care and how those who find the biblical teaching difficult receive it."

The Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (Gafcon), which represents conservative Anglicans, mainly across the developing world, and takes a strong conservative view, said: "GAFCON UK is puzzled as to why the Church of England needs a 'Bishops' Reflection Group' on homosexuality."

Gafcon said the Bible is universally clear. "We stand with our brothers and sisters in Christ who are same-sex attracted, and faithfully living according to God's revealed plan for human flourishing.

"As pastors, teachers, friends, and neighbours we can have no other response. The Church of England needs to have the courage of its foundational convictions, return to them, and move on to its mission of calling the nation to turn to Christ as the only Saviour and Lord." 

Former Assemblies of God leader in Australia, Anthony Venn-Brown, now a gay activist, wrote: "Can you imagine a group of male church leaders discussing the role of women in the church without females present. We would call that misogyny."

He added: "So when church leaders discuss LGBT people, relationships and the community without speaking with or spending time getting to know LGBT people it does beg the question why. What is there to fear? Why the exclusion? Is this another evidence of homophobia?"

Jayne Ozanne, a prominent gay member of Synod, wrote on Facebook: "Unless I'm very mistaken there are no LGBTI voices on this group! I'm shocked but sadly not surprised. Have we learnt nothing?"

She told Christian Today it was "demeaning" and that she was "dismayed".

Meanwhile the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby on Twitter suggested how his divided flock might pray for him, and reminded them of the importance of charity.

He tweeted: